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Website Referral Traffic – Search vs. Social

Search engines regain largest share of website referral traffic.

For the past three years, social networks have been the king of website referral traffic. At its peak, social was responsible for nearly 40% of site referrals, taking the lead over search in late 2013.

Now, according to a new report, search reclaims the title as the number one referrer of website traffic, with 38.4% of referrals in 2017. Social, on the other hand, takes credit for 25.6% of the referrals to web pages.

For businesses, this could mean a shift in strategy for both search and social. Let’s take a look at some numbers and see how these changes in website referral traffic may affect your business going forward.

Website Referral Traffic: Facebook Plummets, Other Networks Climb

The biggest contributor to website referral traffic – in the social world, at least – used to be Facebook. During the first half of 2016, these numbers were as high as 30.90%. By the second half of 2017, this number dropped to 18.16%, down by more than a third.

Much of this can be attributed to changes in the Facebook algorithm, which have sent progressively less traffic to websites. Fewer referrals from Facebook meant other networks were picking up the slack; namely Pinterest and Instagram, which saw dramatic increases in share of visits.

Search Rises to the Top Once Again

While the number of website referrals from social dropped in 2017, those from search engines actually increased during this period. It’s the first time since 2014 that site visitors were more likely to come from search than from social.

And that’s not all. Of those search engine referrals, Google leads the pack – and specifically Google’s mobile search referrals were the biggest driver (Google’s desktop referrals were flat).

What does all this mean for your business? Not only should you have a large focus on search in terms of website referral traffic (in terms of organic and paid), but perhaps even more of that focus should be on mobile search.

Bottom line: take a look at where your referral traffic numbers are at now compared to last year, maybe even the past few years. Consider those trends, along with this new data, as you shape your online strategy for the year ahead.

Sheila Hart-O’Connor is a word geek who is passionate about all things digital. She specializes in advertising and marketing copy, with a lean toward SEO, social media, and blogging.